Southern Gothic Fiction

wte_frontcoverMore than a year ago, I entered a short story contest called something like the Southern Gothic Fiction Revival prize. I had no real thought of winning the contest. More than anything, I entered it as a way of donating money to Twisted Road Publishing. Twisted Road puts out excellent books. The two Pat Spears novels are among my favorites. The review I wrote about one of them will pop up on this site eventually.

Anyway, Dorothy Allison was the judge of that contest. She’s an amazing writer. I thought she’d have better taste in fiction than she does. As it turns out, she picked this ridiculous story about Flannery O’Connor, a textbook salesman, and a ukulele as the winner.

As it also turns out, I wrote that story.

On top of winning the contest, my Flannery O’Connor ukulele story was included in a short story anthology that was released in the fall of 2016. Being the master of self promotion that I am, I’m just now getting around to letting the world (or at least my blog and the Facebook page attached to it) know about it.

It’s a pretty kick ass anthology, regardless what you think of my story. I highly recommend it. You can order it and learn more about it here.

Los Angeles Review of Books

Candelas Front 2

Steph Cha recently interviewed me for the Los Angeles Review of Books. It was refreshing to work with Steph. Almost everyone else wanted to talk about the ukulele aspect of my books, which makes sense. The work “ukulele” is in the title. I talk about ukuleles a lot. I even have a picture of a uke on this post. Still, the books isn’t really about ukuleles. It’s about writers. Steph picked up on that and wanted to talk about the writers and the stories behind the stories. I think it came out really well.

You can read the interview here.

While I’m at it, I’ll point out that Steph Cha is a pretty badass noir writer herself. Check out her Juniper Song series, starting with Follow Her Home.

City Lights

ferlinghetti1965_c Tomorrow will be the last stop on my book tour. I’m going to the famed City Lights Books in San Francisco. It’s kind of a big deal for me. When I was in high school, one of my teachers turned me on to the Beats, starting with Gregory Corso, but moving on to Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I’m pretty excited about reading at the place where that literary movement began.

The reading is at 7:00 PM on Wednesday, June 29, 2016.

A bookseller at City Lights asked me five questions for their blog. As far as I can tell, he didn’t use my interview. Since it’s written and I still have it, I’ve pasted the interview below. I hope to see you in San Francisco.

Five Questions for Sean Carswell

If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?  If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

I’ve been to City Lights several times. I go there almost every time I go to San Francisco. My most memorable visit had to be about ten years ago.

I’d designed a book cover for Bucky Sinister’s poetry collection Whiskey & Robots. I thought of the cover as an homage to the City Lights Pocket Poets series. Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Nancy Peters saw the cover as borderline copyright infringement. They sent to nicest cease-and-desist letter to the publisher for whom I designed the cover. I talked to Nancy and we smoothed things out. A few months later, I was in City Lights and saw a half dozen copies of Whiskey & Robots in the poetry shelves, cover out.

That was such a classy move by City Lights.

If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

I actually put one together for Largehearted Boy.

What’s the first book you actually finished reading?

The first novel I really loved was Sounder by William H. Armstrong. I read it several times when I was in second grade. I remember that we couldn’t renew books at the school library, so I’d check the book out, read it, return it, and wait the allotted time until I could check it out and read it again. I read it so many times that my brother, who’d seen the Disney adaptation of the book, took to yelling, “Sounder, come here, boy” a la Paul Winfield every time he saw me. That convinced me to find a new book.

If you didn’t have your current job, what might you do?

Become a bookseller at City Lights.

Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no wifi). 

I’ll just talk about books. I’d bring Herman Melville’s Typee. That way, if there were cannibals on the island, I’d have a guidebook for how to live with them. I’d bring Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, because I’ve been meaning to read it. I’d probably have time to do so on a desert island. If I liked it enough, I’d be inspired to build a raft and float home, just so I could read the other books in the series.

In case I didn’t like it, I’d bring Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day. I’d sit on the shores of that island and keep reading that gigantic novel until it made perfect sense to me. That would keep me occupied for a decade or two.

Pacific Northwest

The tour continues. Wednesday, June 15 I’ll be reading at Third Place Books in Lake Forest, WA. I’ll be joined by Seattle area writers Samantha Updegrave and Kristen Millares Young. If you’re in the area, come out and see me. If you’re not but you know someone who is, send them this Facebook invitation.

The next night, Thursday, June 16, I’m reading at Powell’s Books. The reading is at their Hawthorne location. Razorcake contributor Keith Rosson will join me. If all goes well, my Ig Publishing tour mate, Ron Tanner, will be there, too.

Now here’s a picture of some chairs that I saw along a bay in the Puget Sound. Below that is a piece I wrote about being on tour in Seattle in 2008.

Chairs on Whidbey Island

Seattle

In Seattle, one of the local weeklies had a blurb about my reading at Elliott Bay Book Company. The weekly said that my new book was about a “bartender [who] goes on a road trip of self-discover.”

The book is absolutely not about that.

I happened to be standing on the Seattle waterfront when I read the weekly, a bit south of the famous fish market but still surrounded by a tourist district that I’d taken a wrong turn into. I paused for a second to remember a time when the independent weeklies that you found in every city used to actually be independent and actually cover events in those cities. In the next second, I wondered what happened to this imaginary bartender’s “y” on his road trip of self-discover.

I wandered as far away as I could from this little tourist district, gradually forgetting that stupid little blurb and remembering, still, that this was my nineteenth and final city on the summer tour I did to promote Train Wreck Girl, and, while it hadn’t been the road trip to self-discover that the Seattle Weekly billed it as, I had seen some things crisscrossing this continent.

Metaphysical Ukuleles in the World

Here’s a roundup of some stuff that’s been written about my new book. The first is a playlist I put together for the book for Largehearted Boy. I matched a song with each of the stories in The Metaphysical Ukulele, and I wrote a little about the book, the authors I focused on, and the songs themselves. It’s a badass playlist, if I say so myself:

Book Notes – Sean Carswell “The Metaphysical Ukulele”

kerouac_tuning_in

The second is an essay that Tobias Carroll wrote about the legacy of Beat writers. The essay is interesting in itself. He concludes it with a couple of paragraphs about my Jack Kerouac story and The Metaphysical Ukulele. It’s worth a read.

The Beats, Revisited: The Shifting Legacy of a Literary Generation

And then there are reviews in the trades. These all came out a while ago. I’ve just been slow posting them. If you’re curious about what critics have to say about the collection, click the links.

Publisher’s Weekly
Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
Vol. 1 Brooklyn

Calling Twin Cities

I’ll be in Minneapolis this week, reading at Magers and Quinn on Friday night (June 3, 7:00). Bizarro author, Razorcake contributor, and part-time drag queen MP Johnson will read with me. I’ve never had a dull event in Minneapolis. Hopefully, this one will be as fun as readings in the past. Here’s a link to the bookstore’s events page.

Scroll below the picture to get a Replacements song in your head and read a vignette I wrote about reading in Minneapolis in 2008.

MPLS Skyway

Take the Skyway, high above that busy little one way.

Minneapolis

After I finished my reading at Arise Bookstore in Minneapolis, the God Damn Doo Wop Band took the stage. And, by “stage,” I mean the empty area in front of the chairs in the backyard of Arise. It was one of those perfect Minneapolis days that apparently don’t happen all that often but seem to happen every time I’m there. It was sunny, temperatures in the low eighties, an even cooler breeze. The sun was starting to set behind the bookstore. The band sat on a low wall.

The God Damn Doo Wop Band: three women who know how to spend their money on boots and tattoos and hair dye, who, more importantly, know how to sing doo wop songs. They launched into three-part-harmonies about boy troubles. On the one hand, they seemed like an authentic throwback to the Staten Island doo wop of the fifties. On the other hand, it was something totally fresh and original.

One of the band members is named Annie. She used to be in the Soviettes. She didn’t wear boots. Her Vans were worn through just above the big toe. As she sang, her big toe popped out of the hole in her shoe. A little red toenail kept the beat.

My New Book!

Ukulele-231x346I have a weird hobby. Periodically, I’ll get obsessed with an author. I’ll read a bunch of his or her works. I’ll read stories about the author’s life. I’ll decide I want to understand how this author does certain things stylistically. To figure this out, I’ll give said author a metaphysical ukulele, then make him or her the protagonist of a short story. The story is typically rooted in fact, but the ukulele makes sure it never stays that way.

Over the past few years, I’ve written a dozen short stories about my favorite authors and their metaphysical ukuleles. These stories have been published in literary journals and anthologized in places like the California Prose Directory. Last spring, I put the stories together into a collection and sent it out to a handful of publishers I really admire. Ig Publishing was the first to get back to me. They offered to publish this book.

Now, the galleys are printed. The book is out for review (if you’re a reviewer and want an advance copy, contact robert[at]igpub.com). It’s available for pre-order online. It’s scheduled to be released on May 10.

I’m pretty excited about it. If you can’t wait to read it, you can listen to a teaser here. It’s me playing a little uke and reading the first story in the collection.